The Best Xmas Gift of All:

A book that my eight year old daughter wrote, illustrated and published for me, called “Somewhere in the World”:

SITW_ISABEL_2013_1Somewhere in the world there is a place you like,
and in the place you like, there is a tall mountain to hike.


SITW_ISABEL_2013_4In the world there is a place that you can see, but never touch!

SITW_ISABEL_2013_5Happy x Fun = FUNtastic
Fun + Boring = Good

SITW_ISABEL_2013_6Home is in your heart, wherever you are!



Unusual Books for the Upcoming Holiday Season

Halloween isn’t here yet, and large pumpkins are yet to make it to the stores, but Christmas is already out at IKEA outposts. Normally, I can’t stand this conversion of exciting anticipation into acquisitive anxiety, compelling people to buy Fall in the Summer, Ski in the Fall, Valentine in January, Easter in February, and so on.

Much as I loathe this seasonal shopping disconnect,  I’ll follow IKEA´s lead and offer some Happy Holiday gift hints in mid October.  This considering serious types of gifting anxiety –  e.g. what to get for people who believe they’ve seen it all, got it all; or people who’ve liberated themselves from materialistic pleasures, but vividly recall who fails to give them a wrapped package – compounded by the additional postal delivery problems of our times:  online shopping [more postal packages than ever to deliver], Nowism [the need for everything right now, including packages ordered from across the ocean], terror wars [more careful scrutiny of package contents than ever], and the Euro-zone crisis [more  careful scrutiny of package contents than ever.]

To alleviate gift purchase anxieties and minimize postal gift packages going AWOL, I propose books with very unusual structures – a sure thrill for  those able to appreciate their quirky uniqueness, a.k.a. cultural snobs and connoisseurs, and apt to produce a confused and disappointed ¿qué? in the hands of everyone else, meaning,  a very remote possibility of a Waiting-for-Godot type of express delivery.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston is a novel in scrapbook format telling the adventures of a young woman aspiring to be a writer in the 1920s.

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore  Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton is the story of a relationship, i.e., a love story where the couple didn’t necessarily live happily ever after, in the form of an auction catalog.

A Void by Georges Perec is a 300 page missing person mystery without the letter “e”, heroically translated to English by Gilbert Adair from the French original, where the letter “e” is an epicurean vocabulary essential, as in, Questce que c’est la vie?, meaning, “what is life?”

Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish is another novel playing with missing letters. Chapter 1 uses only words that begin with A, chapter 2 uses words that begin with A and B, and so on until chapter 27 where the process is reversed: the letter Z disappears, then Z and Y, and so on until chapter 52 where only A words exist. [Not to be braved after festive doses of  Holiday Punch, Glögg or Glühwein .]

The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson is a semi-autobiographical, deeply moving personal work with fixed first and last chapters plus 25 other chapters in between to be read in any order. [Very convenient amid all the distracting relatives, parcels and edibles of the holidays.]

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is not exactly a unique format, but rather, as Amazon aptly puts it, “as if the Blair Witch Project had been a book […] written by Nabokov […] and revised by Stephen King“. All in all, a terrific and horrific literary debut.

On this bizarre mesmerizing beat, and to conclude this unusual list, I recommend to all that read German well [unlike me] Unterwegssein ist Alles by Jürgen Ploog, friend and neighbor, Lufthansa pilot in the early days of commercial aviation, pals with William Burroughs and pioneer of the German literary non-conformist underground. Until an English translation of his work is available, take a  sneak peak here, here and here. Merry Pre-Xmas and Fiery Fall!

Sticky Chinoiseries

Some sticky books get the Nobel Prize of Literature; others get to go to Hollywood.  The book I just finished reading [09/2012], Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke, could score on both counts, but then again maybe not, as the book has been banned in China, and China has a sticky-upward pull in contemporary Sino-American politico-economical relations.

Speaking of the sticky-upward pull in Sino-American relations, another sticky read comes to mind: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, a hilariously absurd tale of a dystopian near future too close to reality 2012 for comfortable chuckling.

For hilarious  suspension of disbelief,  stick to the The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, who saw his debut novel at age 48 turn into an instant bestseller. The bombastic life of the 100 year old hero reads like a Who Was Whoof the 20th century, including  – and here´s the Chinese connection – a riverboat ride with Mrs.  Mao Zedong.